Should Pastors Write Systematic Theologies?

A while back I wrote about the importance of keeping a personal copia, a topical index of quotes, arguments, illustrations, and examples.

Here the point is far, far more specific.

It’s about pastors and their writing habits.

A friend, who will remain anonymous, thought he had nothing to say when I suggested he write a systematic theology.

For those who don’t know, a systematic theology is a book covering the various topics of theology and stating, not merely what the author things is true about them and why, but also the interconnectedness of the themes of the Bible, Christian tradition, and Christian confessions of faith.

Such an exercise is quite valuable and in the digital age remarkably easy to edit and update. I have done no such exercise, I’m neither a real pastor (just a school teacher) nor a real scholar (don’t have an advanced academic degree), but my friend is. With his academic training writing a brief version of such a book would be time consuming, but simple.

Here is what my favorite poet, George Herbert, had to say about the matter:

THE Country Parson hath read the Fathers also, and the Schoolmen, and the later Writers, or a good proportion of all,* out of all which he hath compiled a Book and Body of Divinity, which is the storehouse of his Sermons, and which he preacheth all his Life; but diversely clothed, illustrated, and enlarged. For though the world is full of such composures, yet every man’s own is fittest, readiest, and most savoury to him. Besides, this being to be done in his younger and preparatory times, it is an honest joy ever after to look upon his well-spent hours. This Body he made by way of expounding the Church Catechism, to which all Divinity may easily be reduced. For it being indifferent in itself to choose any Method, that is best to be chosen, of which there is likeliest to be most use. Now Catechizing being a work of singular and admirable benefit to the Church of God, and a thing required under Canonical obedience, the expounding of our Catechism must needs be the most useful form.[1]

If you don’t feel like reading the quote, Herbert suggests:

  1. That Christian ministers take the catechism (or confession of faith) used in their church and compiles a systematic theology that compares and synthesizes the ideas of famous theologians of the past on each topic.
  2. That from this work of careful logic he should be able to more clearly explain in sermons the various doctrine of the Christian faith using illustrative rhetoric and specific applications.
  3. That writing this work is worth it because it will be his own, despite the quality of other works available.
  4. That writing this work in his youth will make him happy in his old age.
  5. Finally, it will help him in his work of catechizing to practice explaining the catechism in more rigorous form in print.

So, pastors, anybody writing a systematic theology text this year?

* “Woe be to him that reads but one book”—Herbert’s Proverbs.

[1] George Herbert, The Works of George Herbert (London: George Routledge & Co., 1854), 224.

Growth in Grace: Means

In previous posts I’ve been writing about God’s grace and what it means to grow in that grace.

To grow in anything, at least on purpose, we need to have three things. Vision, Intention, and Means.

Today, we learn about means. By what means can we grow in God’s grace?

A word about means, means are method or instruments for accomplishing something.

For instance, if I am fastening two boards together, the means by which I do it could be a nail or an adhesive like glue. The means by which I drive the nail is a hammer.

Similarly, if I have a vision for becoming a person with no debt, the means by which I do this might be to write a budget and follow it, work a second job, invite a roommate to help with rent, and so-on.

Christian growth in grace is no different. Many times we read the commands in the Bible to have certain virtues or character traits and we miss out on the parts of Scripture that offer means for gaining those character traits.[1]

One way of talking about the means of growing into Christ’s image in to talk about “spiritual disciplines.” Some people don’t like that language because it implies doing hard work, but Jesus calls us to be disciples, so having disciplines seems like a natural outgrowth of that. But if you do not like the language, then call them “means of grace.”

What are some of the means the Bible gives for growing in grace?

  1. Meditation on the truths of the gospel of Christ
    In fact, this very act is what we did in the post on vision. Thinking about the greatness of Jesus, his love for us, his plan for history, the mercy of his Father, and the power of his Spirit, and what kind of person he wants to make of us is precisely one of the best means for achieving that vision (2 Corinthians 3:18-4:6).
  2. Knowledge of Scripture
    2 Timothy 3:14-17 makes it clear that knowing, not just the gospel (the New Testament), but the whole Bible is important for wisdom and training in righteousness. Reading the Bible as a book meant to reveal Jesus Christ and to train us in wisdom can help you to grow in wisdom and righteous character. With this fact in mind here are some means that are meant to help you have more Scripture intake:
  • Read the Bible
  • Bible memory
  • Bible study
  • Listening to the Bible out loud.
  • Listening to the Bible with the church community.
  • Meditating on the Bible.
  • Praying the prayers of the Bible.
  • Making visible inscriptions of important passages of the Bible in your home.
  1. Fasting
    This discipline is controversial, but it is at its heart, saying no to food for a set period of time in order to receive a blessing from God. In the New Testament that blessing is connected to receiving a reward from God for prayer and alms giving. I suspect that the idea is that fasting gives us time away from food to pray and extra resources to give. Later Christians connected fasting, rightly in my mind, with learning self-control (self-mastery) and temperance.
  2. Prayer (with the specific meaning of “asking God for something”)
    The prayers in the Bible range from prayers for good things, prayers for bad things, prayers for help, and prayers for forgiveness. But most especially in the New Testament we see prayers for help in character transformation. This is especially so in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) and the prayers in Paul’s letters.
  3. Practicing the Presence of God
    This spiritual discipline is similar to the self-help tool called “mindfulness.” Except instead of trying to be non-judgmentally mindful of your internal feelings and external circumstances, you try to bring God or rather, truths concerning God before the mind. There are three ways to do this:
  • God as revealed in nature
    In doing this you can think either personally about God’s presence in nature. But this has limits, because not everything it beautiful and capable of lifting your mind and soul to the Lord. You can also do this philosophically by thinking about causality and the need for a first mover or prime cause for every aspect of reality you see or experience. Both of these are important.
  • God as revealed in Scripture
    Here you bring God before the mind by recalling memorized Scripture about God’s greatness, love, and mercy. Examples of this that are built into the Christian life are singing hymns, taking the Lord’s Supper, and remembering the meaning of Baptism.
  • God as revealed in personal experience
    Here you remember answered prayer, specific moments of spiritual intensity, and the stories of other Christians. By recalling these specific acts of God on the stage of recent human history, you can remember more fully Jesus’ promise “I am with you every day” (Matthew 28:20).
  1. Confession of Sin
    Confession of sin to others (God included) has a doubly cleansing effect. The first is that the Bible teaches that confessing sin is one of the conditions for receiving cleansing from unrighteous character (1 John 1:9). Secondly, is that it works like finally going into that messy room in the house that you avoid so that you don’t have to clean it. Once you calmly admit what is wrong you can become much more active in removing it. It’s just the way the human mind works. Keeping some bad habit as a deep dark secret seems to fuel our efforts to avoid confronting it ourselves. Simply admitting it to the Lord and/or a trusted Christian friend is enough to destroy our patterns of avoidance and internalized shame.

Now, obviously, there are other means to growing into the Biblical vision of Christ-like character in the kingdom of God, but these are some of the most explicitly Biblical ones.

No Instant Power-Ups

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in all of this is that growth in Christian character is by degrees and is awaiting a final transformation that we ourselves cannot do (1 John 3:1-2). You might work on a spiritual discipline for quite sometime before you one day notice: well, Jesus has really changed me. The metaphors the Bible often uses for spiritual growth are building houses, growing crops, taking long journeys, and being students. None of these things occur with instantaneous efficiency. There is no reason to expect your spiritual growth to happen this way, either. In other words, be like the ant in Proverbs 6:6-8.

Do you have anything you think should be added to the list?

Posts in the series

  1. What does “grow in grace” mean?
  2. Growth in Grace: Vision
  3. Growth in Grace: Intention
  4. Growth in Grace: Means
  5. Growth in Grace: The Feelings

References

[1] There are several reasons for this. One is a recent Protestant aversion to anything that sounds like works. In the reformation era, works were only considered bad insofar as they were treated as necessary when the Bible either never mentioned them or forbade them or insofar as they were treated as a means of earning rather than a means of showing gratitude (growing in grace). Many modern Protestants think that any talk of “trying” in the Christian life is bad. I deal with this misconception in relationship to how Christians talk about “duty,” “debt,” “obligation,” and “trying” here.

It’s a New Year: Be the Ant

Pro 6:6-8  Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  (7)  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  (8)  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

This is a short passage. In context, the author is talking about settling accounts and avoiding poverty.

There are four ant-traits in the text that are relevant for settling accounts (Proverbs 6:1-5) and avoiding poverty:

  1. The ant is a self-starter.
  2. The ant prepares for the future.
  3. The ant prepares little by little (because she’s tiny), every day.
  4. The ant prepares for a long time (until winter).

A lot of people don’t like New Year’s resolutions.

I typically make pretty hard ones even though I see the practice as cheesy (pizza is also cheesy and it’s wonderful), but this year I already have too many goals to work on, so I’m simply trying to improve my efficiency at reaching them.

But if you don’t like resolutions for the New Year, but still want to reflect on bettering yourself here are two questions:

  1. What do I want more of?
  2. What do I want less of?

Think hard about these. The answers should be optimistic, but not impossible. They should also be based on your actual values, not simply social ideals that other people think you should live up to. Think about things like, “I want more knowledge, more time with my church, more time with my family, more good feelings, more Bible memorized, more risk taking, more money, more power, more humility, etc.” For question two think about things like this: “I want less wasted time on the internet, less television, less clutter, less whining, less fighting, less time spent feeling depressed, less sugar in my diet, less debt, less sinful habits (porn, explosive anger, greedy spending, intentional antagonizing, etcetera), etc.”

If you’re in a bad mood, listen to some music to get more pumped up, go for a walk, have a coffee and come back to them. Or, if you’re more contemplative, think about a time when you felt really successful and confidence. Think about it until you have the same emotional reaction you did at that time in your life. Do it until the hair stands up on your neck or arms or you feel embarrassed for being pumped up about something that happened five years ago.

After you’ve spent time reflecting on these two questions then reflect pair down your wants to a reasonable number for you. One might be all you can muster, but like a snow ball starting with a single handful, that one thing is better than nothing. I recommend no more than six. You can work on building up habits for two months at a time to solidify them before adding a new one. Of course, you could redo this exercise every month.

Now ask these two questions:

  1. What small, self-starting, regular action can I take to get the more that I want?
  2. What small, self-starting, regular action can I take to have the less that I want?

These actions should be small, designed to get the results you want from the first two questions, and be things you’re willing to change if they do not work. They should be easy enough to do that they make almost no difference in your life when you do them and make almost no difference when you don’t. But, if you do them for several days, weeks, months, and years they’ll add up. Think about the ant. She probably gathers enough food for each day and a little bit more.

As a final exercise, to motivate yourself to do these small little actions I recommend:

  1. Imagine yourself enjoying the more/less you plan to have and how pleasant that will be compared to how your life is now. Capitalize on your motivation out of your current frustrations and the motivation toward who you want to be. This sort of visualization seems kooky until you read old poetry, sermons, and speeches and see how often visualization and imagery were used to motivated people. Television may have stolen our imagination in this regard.
  2. When the small habit seems like a burden one day or several weeks simply say, “I’ll be better and happier for doing this than I will be for not.” Don’t let the false “be authentic to yourself by being a wreck or admitting your weakness” keep you from shoring up your weaknesses. You can admit that you have weak arms, but you still better do some bicep curls to fix it. Imagine if your doctor decided not to study your illness because he was being “true to himself” when he felt too tired to read ten pages from a desk reference.

Growth in Grace: Intention

The main idea is that in order to approach the Biblical vision of Christ-like character there must be a moment of decision as well as several moments wherein we actually intend to make the vision a reality in our lives in cooperation with what God’s grace is already doing.

In the previous posts in the series, I mentioned Dallas Willard’s V(ision)-I(ntention)-M(eans) rubric for personal transformation and then gave a picture of a Biblical vision for Christian character.

For many Christians that moment of decision was, of course, conversion and Baptism. For non-Baptists, perhaps this moment of decision was a conversion experience in early childhood or a settled disposition of the will to be like Jesus that just seems to have happened at some unremembered time.

Either way, there are also tiny decision on a day by day basis that must be made, but the point is that in order to be transformed into Christ’s character we must actually intend to do it.

The idea is that Jesus really wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and that he really offers resources to see to that transformation (2 Peter 1:3-4) for those who receive his grace.

Exercise

The main exercise I offer is very simple:

  1. Ask God’s assistance in becoming like Jesus.
  2. Decide to do something specific Jesus said to do precisely because he said to do it.
  3. Make a decision to help you move forward in the vision of life in God’s kingdom from the Bible I mentioned here or here.

Posts in the Series

  1. What does “grow in grace” mean?
  2. Growth in Grace: Vision
  3. Growth in Grace: Intention
  4. Growth in Grace: Means
  5. Growth in Grace: The Feelings

I can help you get smarter. Will you try it?

Many people feel insecure about how smart they are. This can even be the cause of anxiety when reading a difficult book or taking a test in school. This anxiety holds a lot of people back from the happiness they want. I know many religious people who don’t study their holy books or bright young men or women who are afraid to take college algebra. I think I can help you. You having nothing to lose by trying to improve your intelligence except for time spent playing on the Internet or watching television. 

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The “Act as-if” Hypothesis

In the Bible there is a significant body of moral commands directed to the human emotions, passions, and desires.

There are essentially two ways these passages are explained:

  1. Commands to Feel as Literal Commands to Feel
    They are commands to the passions and passions can only be activated by specific experiences, therefore while God is right to command our passions, God himself must change our passions for us to obey these commands. John Piper defends this idea here and here the related idea that one must be regenerated by God who causes you to have those feelings in the first place.*
  2. The “act as-if” hypothesis
    When the Bible issues commands to the emotions, desires, and passions, the idea is to “act as-if” this or that emotion, passion, desire, or affection is true. This does not really depend upon a theory of free-will or regeneration. It instead is simply a theory about how these commands are intended to be obeyed. For instance, one could be a Calvinist and still have this point of view. The command to rejoice is meant to be obeyed, not purely by feeling joy, but by doing the things a rejoicing person does: praising, thanking, and showing the kindness which comes from being joyful.

Because I subscribe to the “act as-if” hypothesis, here are some pieces of evidence for it:

  1. The ancient Mediterranean world had what some scholars call a dramatic orientation. While one could paint with too broad a brush, the idea is simply that emotions were often seen as external actions rather than mere internal cognitive states. Hypocrisy is bad, not because the feelings aren’t there, but because actions are done to hide evil intentions. Rather, actions seem to have been meant to illustrate feelings which should be there whether they are there or not.
  2. Stoic theories of human action typically include learning to manage one’s internal emotional states by applying reason and acting in reasonable ways regardless of feeling. Many scholars note the influence of Stoic theories of ethics on the New Testament authors. I do not think that they are incorrect.
  3. In Psalms rejoicing in the Lord is often connected directly to singing, playing music, and meditating on or exclaiming publicly the acts and attributes of the Lord, the God of Israel. New Testament commands probably have the same application.
  4. In general, the New Testament’s picture of the commands of Jesus is that they are not burdensome. This doesn’t mean “not hard.” It means they they do not weigh you down like the teachings of the Pharisees as impossible or absurd idealism. If you don’t believe me read 1 John 5:3 and Matthew 11:26-30. Even Matthew 7:13-28 show that Jesus means for his commands to be the foundation of Christian character. The point is that the teachings of Jesus are, by the power of God’s Spirit, the change of mind brought about by the gospel, the influence of a heavenly hope, the experience of God’s love, and the persuasive example of the best representatives of God’s church are meant to be joyfully followed.

In the future I’ll post about how to follow some of the emotional commands in Scripture based on the “as-if hypothesis.” Also, I do not subscribe to this hypothesis without reservation. Smarter and wiser interpreters of Scripture has disagreed with me, so if you have any thing to add, let me know.

*Note: This idea is strongly related to Jonathan Edward’s identification of the will or the faculty of choice precisely with whatever one’s strongest inclination happens to be. This philosophical predetermination of what it means for the Bible to give commands to the emotions actually leads to an interesting problem for John Piper’s over all theology. He defines hypocrisy as “acting as if you have feelings you do not have.” Yet, Piper acknowledges that feelings may indeed not be there in a genuine Christian (this is a case of a philosophical idea having empirical data to the contrary), and therefore one must fight for joy in God despite not desiring God. But this makes them a hypocrite and not a real Christian (because for Jesus, the hypocrites are merely pretending and not truly faithful). In other words, for Piper, the commands are necessary parts of a moral calculus wherein God rightfully gives impossible commands and forgives the elect of their lapses, but otherwise commands simply because he can.

In my mind, this philosophical rabbit trail is interesting, and for John Piper totally determines his interpretation of Scripture, but it is not the point of the post.

Disclosure: I’m not fond of this idea for several reasons, but the primary one is that it really is circular and hopeless. If you don’t have feelings for God that lead you to obedience, you’re in a lot of trouble, because God has to regenerate you first and he may not do so.

Growth in Grace: Vision

Main Points

Having a vision for who we want to be is crucial for all personal growth.

Therefore, such a vision is important for spiritual growth.

The Christian vision for human excellence and happiness is found most directly in the person of Christ and explained in differing degrees of clarity and intensity throughout Scripture.

Introduction

In the first post in this series I wrote about what it means to grow in grace.

In it I explained Dallas Willard’s V-I-M paradigm for personal transformation.

In VIM, the V stands for vision. Our vision is our picture of what we want to be true about ourselves in the future.[1]

Having a vision for who we want to be, what we want to do, and where we see the world going is very important for happiness and success in any endeavor. If this isn’t obvious let me know and I’ll write a post about how this is true.

Having a vision for strength, longevity, and durability can help you to joyfully endure the grind at the gym. Similarly, having a vision of future food (like the ant in Proverbs) can help us to ensure gardening little by little each day.

In the case of growing in grace, our vision is the character of a human being fully alive and conformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is a powerful vision which has fed the souls of God’s saints for quite some time.

The Scriptural Vision of Christian Character

There are three important things to remember about this vision:

  1. It is about growing into somebody who is like Jesus and who does the kinds of things he said to do.
    Jesus’ ministry cannot be replicated, nor should it be. It was his and his alone. Nevertheless, his character, which was on display in his life and explicated in the teachings of Jesus and his apostles is the goal for his disciples. We should want to be fundamentally strong, courageous, self-controlled, clever, confident, loving, humble, and forgiving in all the ways Jesus is in the gospels.
  2. The vision is not a vision of sameness of personality or calling.
    In one sense, all Christians have the same calling: love God and love neighbor. In another sense, Christians have diverse gifts and callings insofar as calling refers to your unique life circumstance and whatever legacy you can leave that is unique to you. This is not the same for everybody. Christians might be scientists, farmers, plumbers, pastors, homeschool mothers, philosophers, artisans, waiters, slaves, and so-on. Jesus does not call all of us to be itinerant preachers like was. Similarly, we aren’t all to have the same personality and interests. Some people like novels and poetry, some people don’t. Some people love tidy desks, some don’t. Some people like spicy food, sarcastic jokes, and terrible music. The New Testament never prescribes conformity of gifts or personality.
  3. The vision of Christian character must be rooted firmly in Scripture.
    Because the vision of Christian growth in grace is based on Jesus Christ, it must be rooted in Scripture. What this means is that our vision of Jesus is subject to change insofar as we understand Scripture more correctly (or by accident, less correctly) over time. The vision is not merely impressions about Jesus and his will (as in many super-spiritual versions of Christianity). Instead it is a robust picture of Jesus based primarily upon the gospels, but also upon the whole Scripture.

In the previous post, I showed how two passages Scripture support the idea that Jesus is the prototype for human character and happiness. Here I’ll add one:

18 Now while we all, with unveiled face, contemplate the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory into another (this is from the Lord, the Spirit). 4:1 For this reason, having this ministry, just as it was mercifully given to us, we do not lose heart, 2 but we renounce the shameful tricks, neither walking in trickery nor falsifying the word of God, but by shining light on the truth we commend ourselves to the consciences of all humanity in the presence of God. 3 But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in their case, the God of this epoch has blinded the minds of those who are unfaithful so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we are not preaching ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants on behalf of Jesus. 6 Because God is the one who said, “From darkness let light shine,” is he who shines in our hearts for the understanding of the glory of God in the face of Christ.[2]

 

Observe the sections in bold. Christians are transformed as they contemplate the glory of the Lord into that same glory. But what, in Paul’s argument, is the glory of the Lord? It is related directly to the content of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the image of God. It is to this image that Christians are to be conformed (also see Romans 8, Ephesians 4, and 2 Peter 1:3-4). And this glory is found, again in the face of Christ. The meaning is clear: the human life of Jesus from birth to ascension which is contained in the gospel which Paul preached is the matter for Christian contemplation and personal transformation. In the exercise below, I will include passages that go beyond this, but this is because the whole canon of Scripture is a witness to the whole person of Christ.

Final Exercise

I recommend reading passages of Scripture like Psalm 1, Psalm 23, Psalm 119, Proverbs 1-9 and 31, the four gospels and Acts, Romans 12-15, 2 Peter 1:3-11, and 1 John (all of it) in order to get a picture of the type of person that Jesus wants us to become as well as the results of that type of character. What is on offer (eternal life, entrance into the wonderful family of the church on earth, present happiness, strong character, joyful generosity, creative concern for others, a life based on love, justice, and wisdom, an infinite reference point for self-improvement, and experiential knowledge of God) is amazing. When you read these passages try this exercises:

  1. Write down the positive character traits mentioned (in teaching or on display in the lives of Jesus and the apostles in Acts).
  2. Write down the positive results the text uses to entice you and I toward those character traits.
  3. Write down the character traits you need to grow toward.
  4. Write down the character traits you need to grow from (lack of self-control, ungratefulness, irritability, pornography use, stinginess, thievery, and so-on).
  5. Now, simply pray for forgiveness for your sinful character traits and ask the Lord’s help in becoming more like Jesus Christ. If you’re concerned to put on Christ, then you’re precisely the type of person that Jesus is willing to assist in becoming like him (see especially Matthew 28:16-20).

Posts in the series

  1. What does “grow in grace” mean?
  2. Growth in Grace: Vision
  3. Growth in Grace: Intention
  4. Growth in Grace: Means
  5. Growth in Grace: The Feelings

References

[1] This might not seem very academic, but Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about vision in a very compelling way in: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Dobbins, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 437, “As I alluded to in Chapter 5, the first step is to have a clear vision of where you want to go, what you want to achieve. “Where the mind goes, the body will follow” is a saying I have always believed in. If you want to be Mr. America or Mr. Universe, you have to have a clear vision of yourself achieving these goals. When your vision is powerful enough, everything else falls into place: how you live your life, your workouts, what friends you choose to hang out with, how you eat, what you do for fun. Vision is purpose, and when your purpose is clear so are your life choices. Vision creates faith and faith creates willpower. With faith there is no anxiety, no doubt—just absolute confidence.”

[2] Kurt Aland et al., Novum Testamentum Graece, 28th Edition (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 2 Co 3:18–4:6. “18 ἡμεῖς δὲ πάντες ἀνακεκαλυμμένῳ προσώπῳ τὴν δόξαν κυρίου κατοπτριζόμενοι τὴν αὐτὴν εἰκόνα μεταμορφούμεθα ἀπὸ δόξης εἰς δόξαν καθάπερ ἀπὸ κυρίου πνεύματος. 4 Διὰ τοῦτο, ἔχοντες τὴν διακονίαν ταύτην καθὼς ἠλεήθημεν, οὐκ ἐγκακοῦμεν 2 ἀλλʼ ἀπειπάμεθα τὰ κρυπτὰ τῆς αἰσχύνης, μὴ περιπατοῦντες ἐν πανουργίᾳ μηδὲ δολοῦντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τῇ φανερώσει τῆς ἀληθείας συνιστάνοντες ἑαυτοὺς πρὸς πᾶσαν συνείδησιν ἀνθρώπων ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ. 3 εἰ δὲ καὶ ἔστιν κεκαλυμμένον τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἀπολλυμένοις ἐστὶν κεκαλυμμένον, 4 ἐν οἷς ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου ἐτύφλωσεν τὰ νοήματα τῶν ἀπίστων εἰς τὸ μὴ αὐγάσαι τὸν φωτισμὸν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τῆς δόξης τοῦ Χριστοῦ, ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ. 5 Οὐ γὰρ ἑαυτοὺς κηρύσσομεν ἀλλʼ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν κύριον, ἑαυτοὺς δὲ δούλους ὑμῶν διὰ Ἰησοῦν. 6 ὅτι ὁ θεὸς ὁ εἰπών· ἐκ σκότους φῶς λάμψει, ὃς ἔλαμψεν ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ἡμῶν πρὸς φωτισμὸν τῆς γνώσεως τῆς δόξης τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν προσώπῳ [Ἰησοῦ] Χριστοῦ.”

Self-Mastery and Physical Pain

In Xenophon’s book on Socrates, he describes the great man like this:

In the first place, apart from what I have said, in control of his own passions and appetites he was the strictest of men; further, in endurance of cold and heat and every kind of toil he was most resolute; and besides, his needs were so schooled to moderation that having very little he was yet very content.[1]

The Greek word for “control” can also be translated as “mastery.” I prefer this translation, but I used the work on another in the quote above because translating classical Greek takes me longer than I care to spend. But back to the main idea. At a young age, I wished to learn the virtue of self-mastery or enkrateia. Here is my experience with this virtue in relationship to physical and emotional distress:

When I was a kid, I often experienced extreme physical pain.

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When Aggression is Good

Aggression has gained a reputation as purely negative, especially if it is masculine in origin. I think that aggression advances our individual and civilizational aims and promotes human happiness.

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If You Struggle With Anxiety

Some advice for anxiety is literally non-advice. Are there concrete steps for dealing with anxiety? 

An article at a famous news outlet recently stated

If you worry about the fact that you worry so much, take a deep breath: We have some good news. Researchers have found that people with anxiety often have higher intelligence.

Having a high IQ and wondering at a faster pace why things often go poorly for you or why other people have life better is not a pleasant experience or GAD wouldn’t be considered a disorder. I’m neither a doctor nor a psychologist, so I can’t treat or diagnose a disease, but I can say what I do when I have anxiety or a non-productive orientation toward the future.  

I appreciate journalistic attempts to draw attention to new research, but the why this article is written seems to be designed to encourage unhappy people to think they are stuck that way. The attitude that this rhetoric can feed into is one of learned helplessness or the pride associated with being overly clever.

If you struggle with anxiety, you don’t need to feel smarter. You want to be happy and less anxious. 

I’ll write elsewhere why the advice above can’t even be extracted from the study in the first place. 

But here I want to offer what I do to deal with my anxiety:

  1. Productive Action
    When I’m anxious about something and I immerse myself in my responsibilities, then I feel better when several tasks are complete. I also find that going for a walk, hitting the gym, building a thing, or cooking a meal can help. What I often try not to do until I conquer anxiety is make any important decisions so that I don’t make them out of desperation. The point of this is to distract yourself and build confidence. With confidence (a habit of hope for success), you don’t need anxiety. 
  2. Meditation
    Meditation, in the sense I mean here, is sitting in silence and considering your sensations and thoughts from a non-judgmental point of view. Set a timer and do this for a specific amount of time (no more than 5 minutes really). The focus is to get a picture of what thoughts keep popping into your mind. I give some tips for meditation here.
  3. Reasoning
    A simple tool for dealing with anxiety once you sat in silence and gotten a handle on the fact that right now, in the state you’re in you feel anxious, I recommend actually reasoning with the beliefs you have which make you anxious. But you’ve got to reason with them in order to refute them and then remind yourself that those beliefs are false. I explain how to do this here and here.
  4. Doctor
    If you have legitimate Generalized Anxiety Disorder, then you should go to a doctor and get some help. Check here for some guidelines for what to do if you struggle with crippling anxiety.

Basically, if you struggle with anxiety try to develop good habits (virtues). The two virtues that are perhaps most related to overcoming anxiety are self-mastery (enkrateia) and confidence